NutraSweet to Cease Aspartame Production

Mnet 138407 Artificial Sweeteners Lead 2

NEW YORK (AP) — NutraSweet says it will no longer make the artificial sweetener aspartame as a result of foreign competition.

The privately held company said Wednesday it expects to shut down a major portion of a plant that employs about 210 workers, including contractors, by year-end as a result. That will leave it with only about 10 to 20 employees to focus on its two other smaller sweeteners, the company said.

"Low-cost imports now dominate the aspartame market, making it impossible for us to sustain a profitable business while maintaining our unmatched standard of quality," NutraSweet CEO William DeFer said in a statement.

Aspartame is more commonly known as the ingredient used in Equal, the blue packets of sweetener often found on tables at restaurants.

The NutraSweet Company was sold to the private equity firm J.W. Childs by Monsanto in 2000. At the same time, Monsanto sold the retail face of aspartame, Equal, to Merisant.

NutraSweet spokesman Hud Englehart said the company started facing competition as a supplier of aspartame once its patents on the artificial sweetener expired. He noted the company had been facing pressure for some time.

NutraSweet said the plant in Augusta, Georgia had supplied customers around the world for more than 30 years. It said it will now focus on making neotame and Twinsweet.